Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | May 4, 2012

The Unexpected in Martinique

N 14° 27.69′   W 60° 52.25′

Marin, Martinique

Traveling the western Martinique coast, the town of Carbet sits below the Piton mountains. A church steeple can always be identified in each town we pass.

So far we have been favorably impressed with Martinique. For an island that suffers from what Bob calls “too many people disease” it has been surprisingly charming. From the small villages to the large towns, all have been friendly and clean, each with a prominent town church close to a town dock, local vendors offering beautiful produce, good roads and evidence that many French tax dollars have been spent on infrastructure and maintenance. Unemployment is very high but the French seem to support their overseas islands well.

We loved St. Pierre but felt it was time to keep moving. Case Pilote (CAHS PEE LOWT) was a delightful and well kept residential village with an active fishing community. The anchorage was rolly but we enjoyed a quick stop, a restock on some Northern Lights generator filters, and a chance to practice our French with some patient and friendly kids fishing from the breakwater who had lots of questions about boat dogs Lady and Bandit.

Clean and colorful village of Case Pilote

We arrived in Fort-de-France, the capital city, and settled in a scenic spot next to Fort. The anchorage was graced with a beautiful new dinghy dock, a pretty waterfront park and nearby sidewalk eateries with all sorts of goodies. More frequent torrential rain showers limited our shore time and made for a soggy stay.

Approaching Fort-de-France, Martinique’s capital

 

Impressive new dinghy dock at the Fort-de-France anchorage; Fort in the background; Mar Azul in the distance.

 

Downtown Fort-de-France behind the dinghy dock

 

Great waterfront park at Fort-de-France. The turnstyles (to keep out kids on scooters?) were a puzzle to Lady who had never passed through such a thing. She kept getting her leash wrapped around the poles.

 

Shopping looked to be exciting, and when we finally set out to explore, May Day brought an uexpected holiday. Everything except for McDonald’s was closed in this city that is supposed to be as close as you can get to Paris in the Caribbean.  May 1st back home was never a big deal. Were we missing something?

Some quick research found that over 80 countries celebrate the day, most as “International Workers Day”, and some as a transition to Spring. We in the US chose a September date to honor our work force since the roots of International Workers Day lie in the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago. That workers strike for an 8-hour workday became deadly and was later used as a rallying point for demonstrations by socialist, communist and anarchist groups. The US Department of Labor website that discusses the history of Labor Day doesn’t mention that fact.

As we have seen with our island travels, holidays are taken a lot more seriously in other parts of the world. In Fort-de-France, 99.9% of the workers were fully enjoying their day off. Keeping me away from those French shops surely helped the boat’s budget but I was disappointed that we needed to quickly move on.

Rue de la Republique, a pedestrian shopping paradise, closed for May Day

We thought we would find a good shipboard wifi signal in Fort-de-France so that Bob could work on arranging a battery replacement. If I haven’t mentioned it before, when the Captain is preoccupied with a project there is no peace until a decision is reached and arrangements completed. We will need batteries within a few months, and there are new technologies to weigh and shipping timeframes to consider since we want to meet up with our purchase in Grenada.

We had heard boaters complain about poor internet access throughout the French islands, but we found good service in St. Pierre, as we did at all of our stops in Guadeloupe except for Marie Galante. The only reasonable wifi options in Fort-de-France were to purchase a phone SIM card and wireless plan (too expensive for a short stay) or spend one’s days at the local McDonald’s where wifi was free. Availability of Egg McMuffins aside, the Captain likes his shipboard access. So we decided to move across the bay in search of the perfect anchorage, which at this point was defined as one providing shipboard wifi, reasonably calm conditions, a small market and dinghy fuel, a growing priority.

The bay to the south of Fort-de-France has a vacation holiday feel, with several seaside towns catering to tourists and weekend visitors. We checked out each and every potential spot. Coming into Trois Ilets (TWAH ZEE LET) we had a close encounter with the bottom. We will not classify it as a grounding . . . but it was very close. Perhaps we were distracted as we searched for a wifi signal and the depth came up really fast. The boat stopped for a time as mud swirled and then the port engine stalled. An underwater excursion found a large fish trap wrapped tightly around the port propellor. It took many hours over two days to cut away the sturdy wire. Fortunately there seems to be no damage that might require a haul-out.

Once free of the fish trap we moved on to Anse a L’Ane (AHN SAH LAHN). The best internet we could manage was slow wifi at Nid Tropical while we lunched on delicious salads. We purchased dinghy fuel and a few supplies, then repositioned to nearby Anse Mitan (AHNS MEE TAHN), where the Bakoua Hotel wifi signal beckoned. I tried to no avail to talk the resort into selling us some time. No dice, access was for guests only. In hindsight I should have made a better appearance on that call, presenting as a somewhat disheveled-looking boat person. The women here don’t wear shorts, preferring slacks, chic casual dresses or stylish jeans, even in the heat. A wardrobe refresh is in order.

A French lunch on the beach + wifi = not a bad way to spend an afternoon

Thursday we continued south with a plan to try Grande Anse d’Arlet (GRAHN DAHNS DAR LEH) and Petit Anse d’Arlet (PUH TEE TAHNS DAR LEH).  Grand Anse was a very nice anchorage with an attractive town but no wifi. Petit Anse had a perfect wifi signal but rolled unbelievably. The Captain was now getting very frustrated. Although we were passing some awesome-looking stops, at this point the best crew strategy was to accept the fact that the internet mission prevailed.

We continued on to Sainte Anne, a 3-hour ride. The guide book describes that passage as one that can feel like being in a washing machine, and on this day that was the case. Short, steep seas made a miserable ride and we powered along very slowly, the conditions making it impossible to haul the dinghy for this unexpected passage.

Arriving in Sainte Anne we found – guess what – no wifi, so we continued a short distance to Marin. The marina offers wifi throughout the harbor, thank goodness. The next stop would have been St. Lucia and the crew was ready for a break.

Marin is an unusual place. There must be a thousand boats at anchor in the huge harbor and hundreds more at the docks. With the exception of a converted sailboat, we are the lone trawler here. The harbor serves as a charter base for 15 fleets and many of the boats are unoccupied. The geography and surrounding mangroves provide great shelter from weather and swell. We can’t think of a similar harbor back home.

Marin, home to many masts

We had hoped to get the main salon air conditioner repaired here, and once again were met with a little surprise. The French outlawed the needed R-22 gas over 10 years ago, there is none to be had, and a legal substitute is out of stock. For a country that has been pretty loose about other rules and regs, they seem to be way ahead of the US in phasing out environmentally damaging chemicals.

As soon as the Captain gets his internet fix – and the weather clears – we look forward to some shore time here before we continue on to St. Lucia.

 

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